St Helens blows stack sky-high

Copter locates nine survivors – The plume from Mount St Helens reached more than nine miles into the air

eruption of Mt St Helens, 2 PM, May 18, 1980 NPS

Great eruption of Mt St Helens, 2 PM, May 18, 1980; Oman/Combs; 1980; Volcanics (NPS)

Nine persons, apparent survivors of Mount St Helens’ thunderous eruption, were spotted by rescue helicopters today near the mountain.

Five of the persons were found about eight miles from the volcano, which continues to spew huge amounts of ash and steam.

Four others were found four to five miles from the mountain, near Fawn Lake. They were described as two adults, a child and an infant. Helicopters could not land to pick up the nine because of poor visibility caused by volcanic ash. A 0130 plane was circling the area.

Other survivors were seen 20 miles from the volcano, searchers reported, and helicopters were sent to them.

“It’s really hard to say what they’ve undergone,” said FAA spokesman Marv Norman in Olympia, Wash.

“It’s hard to say what heat they endured.” In the Toutle River 45 miles below the mountain, hot mud and rock and ash reportedly heated the waters to 100 degrees, killing all fish. Red-hot sulfur gas, rocks and mud raced down the mountainside in Sunday’s eruption, incinerating everything in the way.

At least five persons were killed, caught in the gases and mudslides or by flooding that followed. There was an unconfirmed report that two other persons were killed by trees blown down by the hot blast.

Mt. St. Helens Eruption Column On May, 18 1980

Mt St Helens Eruption Column On May, 18 1980 (USGS)

About 1,200 feet was ripped off the top of the mountain by the pulverizing eruption. A volcanic crater at the summit was a mile and a half wide. Twenty-one persons have been listed as missing. Thousands were forced to flee from a mile-wide wall of steaming mud.

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Among those missing were Harry Truman, 84-year-old patriarch of the mountain, a U.S. Geological Survey geologist and Reid Blackburn, a newspaper photographer for The Columbian in Vancouver.

Truman’s home at Spirit Lake Lodge was obliterated. The lake, a popular recreation area at the base of the volcano’s north side, was turned into a bubbling mud cauldron.

Day was turned into night in many areas Sunday when sky-borne volcanic ash blotted out the sun and created an eerie “midnight at noon.”

Many communities across eastern Washington and western Montana were virtually at a standstill, buried in ash up to 7 inches deep following Sunday’s convulsion.

Many areas of Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and North Dakota were sprinkled with ash, ranging from a slight dusting to grit ankle deep.

A half-inch of ash layered the ground like black snow at Spokane, 250 miles from the volcano, where police were urging residents to stay indoors.

A meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Boise, Idaho, said the fallout could reach as far as New England in two or three days. “Our forecast calls for the ash to track across the Dakotas, Nebraska, northern Colorado, Kansas and Missouri, then swing back through to the northeast through the Midwest and on to New England,” said meteorologist Carl Keith.

Hundreds of schools in Washington and Montana closed today because of danger in driving in the slippery ash, which many motorists found frustrated even tire chains. Washington State University at Pullman and the University of Idaho in Moscow also closed.

A plume of steam and ash was still billowing 14,000 feet high from a crater a half-mile wide today, but there were no sightings of the rivers of mud, rock and gas which roared down the flanks of the peak earlier. There were no sightings of lava flows during the eruption.

Both the Cowlitz and the Toutle rivers were dropping after being swollen Sunday by the mudflows.

“It’s still perking, but it is not as violent,” said Sam Frear, a spokesman for the Forest Service said. “We hope we’ve seen the worst.” The Red Cross estimates between 2,500 and 3,000 persons have been evacuated.

The explosion early Sunday knocked 1,300 feet off the top of the once pristine and snow-covered 9,377- foot peak, which until March had been quiet since 1857.

“It looks like the aftermath of an atomic explosion,” said Dwight E Reber, a pilot for Columbia Helicopters Inc. of Aurora, Ore. Ash and flows of gas and newly formed rock poured from the mountain throughout Sunday.

The mudflow — the consistency of wet cement, moving at 50 mph — pushed floodwaters before it, swept up cars and houses and snapped concrete-and-steel bridges like toothpicks.

Officials late Sunday reported eight killed, but said today that three people had been counted twice.

Earliest view of the north side of gutted mountain with enormous crater; Lon Stickney; 1980 (NPS)

Earliest view of the north side of gutted mountain with enormous crater; Lon Stickney; 1980 (NPS)

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About this story

Source publication: Walla Walla Union Bulletin (Walla Walla, Washington)

Source publication date: May 19, 1980

Filed under: 1980s, Events, Newspapers, Places

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